Restaurant paid employees over $100,000 a year by splitting them up into multiple families

It’s a tricky proposition to be a first-time restaurant owner. Many of them are social people, always making sure to have the time of day for people with whom they share a business venture.

Yet one company from Hong Kong spent $650,000 to chart a new course for its staff. By selecting staff from its Cantonese restaurant in Soho, in a destination that allows them to work in the morning and see their families in the evening, Zizhou Hong Kong Brunch has given 260 employees a second shot at life.

Chan told the South China Morning Post that the group’s cash outlays were the most it has ever expended on anything at a restaurant. It’s not the first time that these particular restaurants – and groups like them – have gotten the attention of Chinese authorities. In August, 43 new luxury brand designer restaurants in the mainland received warnings from the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT). Those that violate the law have to pay fines of 2,000 yuan ($312) for the first violation and 10,000 yuan ($1,700) for the second, according to the regulator.

In Hong Kong, salaries can reach more than HK$100,000 ($12,220) for a salaried chef. China Daily reported in September that the government in Hainan island, on the southern mainland, hopes to exempt from regulation cafes and eateries that cater to the middle class.

Since Zizhou Hong Kong Brunch opened in 2013, the average annual income has almost tripled to more than $38,000, Chan told the South China Morning Post. Last year, it averaged $3,000 in sales a month.

The 40 or so workers who are more “hard working” tend to be selected from a pool of dozens, a group formed based on a solid work ethic.

The restaurant had no formal agreement with the employees’ families, but the whole process was anchored by the concept of teamwork, according to Chan. In the beginning, staffers had to chip in extra money to travel to the family home.

“When we were doing it, we didn’t want to pay too much and we didn’t want to pay too little,” he said. “[S]ome staff said, ‘I don’t think I’ll take that job to the end,’ because they’re very worried that they’ll die working.”

The restaurant committee chose the company’s employees on the basis of whether they had three or more children, which is reportedly allowed under Chinese law.

Besides the challenging atmosphere, the Hong Kong program has its advantages, with easy access to friends and colleagues.

“It’s more flexible. You can stay with someone in Hong Kong for a year,” one of the employees told the South China Morning Post. “I will always have friends and so will my family.”

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